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Full text of "German images of Abraham Lincoln : an exhibit prepared for Germanfest, 1990"

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Prasident derVereinigten StaatenvonUord-Araeiika. 

Geboren am IStFebruar 1809. 
Ermordet am.. 14* April i860. 


An Exhibit Prepared for Germanfest, 1990 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

Friends of The Lincoln Collection of Indiana, Inc. 


The year after Abraham Lincoln became president of the 
United States, Otto von Bismarck became the head of 
the Prussian ministry and began his drive to unite the 
German states under Prussian leadership. Like Lincoln, he 
struggled for national unity, but the Prussian government was 
considerably more conservative than Lincoln's. While Bismarck 
became known for governing with "blood and iron," Lincoln 
spoke about "government or the people, by the people, for the 
people." To be sure, liberals in the German states admired 
Lincoln, but nationalism remained the stronger force in the dis- 
united German states, not only over the short run of the mid- 
nineteenth century but also over the long run, as demonstrated 
by the rise of Hitler in the twentieth century. It was the war for 
the American Union that made the deepest impression in the 
center slice of Europe — more so than the freeing of the slaves. 

Prussia and the other German states lacked important 
economic stakes (like Great Britain's in the supply of cotton) or 
political stakes (like France's in Mexico) that might cause serious 
consideration of military or diplomatic intervention in the 
American conflict. Save for the substantial German immigra- 
tion to the United States, there seemed to be little reason for 
intensity of feeling about the rather remote contest in North 
America (depicted in one German print as a sort of peasant's 
war [see 1]). German immigrants had settled mainly in areas in 
the United States that remained loyal to Lincoln's government; 
many Germans had relatives living in the Union. The German 
states, therefore, made up for their distance from the American 
Civil War by the one-sidedness of their views of the contest. 
To the degree that Germans had opinions on the war, they were 
decidedly pro-Northern. 

To this Northerly tilt was added the substantial weight of 
the Prussian government's unofficial pro-Northern sympathies. 
Bismarck and the government he led were officially neutral but 
in sentiment pro-Northern. To a people disunited for centuries, 
the example of the federal Union appeared attractive. As 
Prussian minister of foreign affairs Baron von Schleinitz put it 
on June 13, 1861, "The soaring flight which the internal 
prosperity of the Union has taken, extending its range from year 
to year by means of the bond of unity of the States thus knit 
together, the commanding altitude which North America has 
attained abroad has been looked upon by Prussia not merely 
with no dissatisfaction but has rather been greeted by her with 
honest sympathy." Historian John Hawgood has gone so far as 
to suggest that without the American federal example and its 
defense under Lincoln, a united Germany might not have come 
into existence. This is surely an exaggeration, but it does help 
reveal the image of Lincoln and the Civil War in the German 
states. Although it is probable that liberals, more than other 
elements of German society, put Lincoln books and prints into 
their homes, Lincoln's image to most people surely must have 
been, above all, that of the savior of a nation. Lincoln's steadfast 
example seemed worth following. 

Lincoln's Image in Lithographs and Engravings 

Because so many Germans had immigrated to the United States, 
printmakers who remained in Berlin, Breslau, and Leipzig had 
the opportunity to produce Lincoln prints, captioned in their 
native language for both domestic European as well as German- 
speaking American markets. Substantial German populations 
lived in cities like St. Louis and Cincinnati as well as in sur- 
rounding farmlands, and many of these immigrants, especially 
the Protestants among them, had become Republicans. No 
doubt they were as hungry for Lincoln print portraits as their 
non-German fellow Americans. 

This may explain in part why several Lincoln prints made 
in German states nave been unearthed in the United States (see 
2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). Yet, as an advertisement from a book pub- 
lished in Berlin in 1865 suggests, there was certainly an 
audience for Lincoln prints in the old country as well: publisher 
C.F. Conrad advertised a 14-by- 19-inch lithograph of Abraham 
Lincoln, modeled after a photograph, at a price of 1 5 Groschen. 

Conrad's print has disappeared, but enough others survive to 
suggest the outlines of the German image of Lincoln. Like 
French liberals, the German nationalists — some of whom were 
also liberal in their politics — were given images depicting 
Lincoln as a gentlemanly head of state, not as a rough frontiers- 
man. Many articulate Germans saw the American war as a 
contest between Northern factory workers and shopkeepers on 
the one hand and a landed aristocracy in the South on the 
other. This view led to some sentimental fondness for the 
South among Prussia's "aristocratic squiralty," to use the words 
of historian George Bancroft, who after the Civil War served as 
America's minister to Berlin. More Volfcis\\ sources took more 
or less the same view of the sociology of the American conflict 
but preferred the other side. The author of a German pamphlet 
biography of Lincoln entitled Von der Holzart zum Prasidenten- 
stuhl and published in 1865, characterized the land and people 
torn the "Burgerkrieg, Bruderkrieg, der Krieg auf's Messer" 
this way: 

The North of the American Union embraced nearly all of 
the diligence, culture, commercial occupations that were to 
be met with in the great republic. The South shows another 
world: here work, which is revered in the North, is shunned 
by the higher classes. The Southern planter practices 
agriculture: it is almost the only food source of so expansive 
a land. The top role in the South is not the sales- and 
businessman but the great land holder, the master of 
numerous slaves and extensive estates. The number of 
slaves and domestic animals determines more than the 
number and quality of the machines. In the South of the 
republic are the whites born as soldiers: the North must 
train them for it. 

Even the Junkers, whose natural sympathies should have 
lain with the planters and the "born soldiers" of the 
South, could sometimes take their stand on the side of 
the North on grounds of nationalism. This was the stance 
of Prussian king Frederick Wilhelm IV, who, according to 
Bancroft, "steadfastly declared that it was not a question 
between landowners or so-called gentlemen and the industrial 
classes under the appellation of mechanics and shopkeepers; 
that the question was simply a question of right and wrong and 
that without a doubt the right was entirely on the side of the 

North." Depicting Lincoln as a respectable gentleman in coat 
and tie rather than as a more rustic figure not only suited 
German notions of a leader's proper appearance but quieted the 
landed gentry's doubts about him without undermining 
Lincoln's status as a Volksmann. 

It is little wonder, then, that Berg and Porsch of Berlin, for 
example, chose as the model for their chromolithograph of 
Lincoln a dignified pose that had captivated French printmakers 
(see 7). Another gentlemanly pose based on a photograph by 
Mathew Brady was adapted by a rival Berlin printmaker, F. Sala 
(see 8). And Wilhelm Hermes based a lithographed bust 
portrait on a photograph that proved to be a favorite for 
American printmakers — a Brady pose that, forty-nine years 
later, was engraved for the American five-dollar bill (see 9). 

The overall outline of the German image of Lincoln is 
typified by the small book illustration by O. May, also 
apparently distributed as a separate print (see 10). 
Although intended for a children's volume, the engraving used 
subtle symbolism. May encircled Lincoln's portrait in a wreath 
made of a tobacco plant and a cornstalk, symbols of the New 
World which Lincoln was fast coming to represent in the 
German states. The horticultural symbolism also represented 
the agricultural staples of the South and the North, suggesting 
the customary Lincoln image for German audiences — that of 
the preserver of the federal Union. 

The only known European depictions in separate-sheet 
prints of scenes from Lincoln's life are in German prints, not 
French or English ones. One group, for example, depicted his 
assassination and death. There can be little doubt that these 
pictures were designed to sell in America as well as in Germany 
because all the examples unearthed to date bear both English 
and German titles. These include Gustave May's lithograph 
The Last Moments of the President Lincoln and a trio of scenes by 
an unknown publisher depicting the murder, the Lincoln 
deathbed, and the seizure of Lincoln's assassin — all in some ways 
inaccurate, yet all somewhat compelling (see 11). They were 
used as models for book illustrations as well. 

May's deathbed scene, published in Frankfurt on the Main, 
is a modest and rather realistic portrayal quite unlike some of 
the exaggerated American products that showed dozens of 
witnesses attending the dying president — many more than the 

humble boardinghouse bedroom in which he died could 
conceivably have accommodated. The May print showed a 
physician actually tending Lincoln's wound, another concession 
to the frantic reality of the scene that was typically omitted in 
sanitized American interpretations. Even the spool-style 
deathbed was accurate, although the lithographer decided that 
its headboard had been removed to improve the doctor's access 
to Lincoln. (In reality, the doctor had ordered the footboard 
broken off so that the tall president could lie more comfortably 
on the bed.) May did commit the common error of including 
Vice-President Andrew Johnson among the witnesses. Johnson 
had made a perfunctory appearance but was not in the room 
during Lincoln's last moments. Neither, for that matter, was 
Mrs. Lincoln, who was too shattered to remain there. The 
errors might be attributed to May's desire to illustrate the 
continuity of the American political system (Johnson) and the 
mourning by both Lincoln's official and personal families (Mrs. 
Lincoln) appropriate for a well-rounded man. One can detect 
in this scene the German echoes of the young men of France 
whom the diplomat John Bigelow described as saying, 
"American democracy has lost only one of its greatest citizens; in 
that land of liberty, if the hero falls ... the country is not lost; its 
destinies depend not on a single man; the living virtue of 
democracy is in itself." 

Book illustrations, because the medium of literature is 
more spacious, could devote attention to more details of 
Lincoln's life than could separate-sheet prints, in which 
the artist must choose a single image to sum up the man 
depicted. Illustrators, even so, generally hit only the salient 
aspects of Lincoln's life — his birth in a log cabin, his election to 
the presidency, his devotion to Union, his emancipation of the 
slaves, and his assassination. 

German illustrators were particularly hampered by a 
scarcity of reliable and timely visual models for their work. 
Even German-American illustrators were cramped by the 
paucity of models in the United States. The resulting images 
were usually inaccurate, sometimes comical, but always 

The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company 

was granted permission in 1905 to use Lincoln's 

name by the Presidents son, Robert Todd Lincoln. 

Lincoln National Life has since 1928 sponsored 

historical research and programs through The 

Lincoln Museum. This brochure produced by the 

library and museum staff, is made available to 

the public by the Lincoln National Life 

Insurance Company and its 

local representatives. 



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